Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And then there was but one...

Well, here I am at the end of another year. I came into 2014 with grand aspirations of doing more blogging and was actually doing OK for the first half of the year, but that seemingly vanished for the remainder of 2014 on all of my blogs. As I've said before, perhaps my regular journal writing exhausts some kind of writing limit I apparently have. At least I've kept up on that!

Moving on, though, is it really going to be 2015 tomorrow? For real...I remember watching Back to the Future II in the late 1980s thinking it was so far away, and now, here we are about to start it. My nerdy side is quite excited about it and at some point this year (most like on or around October 21, 2015, the date Marty goes to in the BTTF2 movie) I will do a Back to the Future marathon. Great Scott! Are we supposed to see flying cars, auto-dry clothing, hover boards, and "neo-80s" style clothing? I guess we're about to find out. Considering that the current "contemporary" style in homes is just a rehash of the 1960s with different colors, it's not a far reach, at least as far as the "neo-80s" style coming out (though I realize that any vision of the future always reflects the era in which it was produced...see Star Trek in the 1960s and even The Next Generation in the 1980s).

That said, I have to say 2014, while not the extraordinary year I was hoping for, was a good year for me overall and was definitely an improvement over 2013 even without any major changes or upheavals. My hope at the beginning of this year was to finally get that break with a full-time job or other opportunity, but that never came despite my best efforts. Instead, though, I was able to take advantage of some other opportunities, and have been subbing significantly more than I did in most of 2013. My decision to switch to Rootstown, Streetsboro, and the Bio-Med Science Academy in Rootstown in the fall of 2013 was, at least up to this point, a very wise decision. I've enjoyed my time at all three overall this past year and have especially appreciated the increase in work I've received at all of them. Even so, like every year before it, I enter 2015 still on the lookout for something permanent and stable as far as a job or other occupation.

Speaking of jobs, one of my highlights of 2014 was working for the Cleveland Browns this season in Guest Services. My specific title was Suite Attendant, though in reality I really didn't spend much time in the suites themselves. For some of the games I did the pre- and post-game checks of four suites, but that wasn't every week. I initially started out on the far end of the south side 400 level just monitoring the exit to the ramp and answering any questions and addressing any concerns from fans in my immediate area. By the third or fourth game, though, I was moved to the other side of the level at the other exit to the ramps, this one on the Press Box side of the south 400 level. Monitoring this door was a tad different since it was unlocked due to the freight elevator right outside that was frequently used during the games. It was not uncommon for fans using that ramp (the southwest ramp) to walk in the door either mistakenly looking for something else, with a legitimate question for me, or to try and get in the Press Box itself (suite ticket holders rarely tried to do that, but they weren't allowed to). As such, I did see many of the coaches from both teams each week as well as the various media members we all see on TV or hear on the radio.

Overall I really enjoyed the experience of working for the Browns because I enjoy going to sporting events and have always been interested in stadiums, so being able to go in most of the stadium was really neat for me. The other thing was that I was an actual employee, so I was authorized to be in most of the stadium with no questions asked. I remember during the very first preseason game I had to go back downstairs to pick up my dinner and no one blinked when I went through places off limits to most fans since I had my ID. It was a simply, yet gratifying experience for me since, as a substitute, I don't have an ID (several schools give me a generic "Staff" tag that identifies me as a sub that I wear for that day). At the Browns games, I wasn't a sub or just there filling in for someone else; I was doing my job. Later in the season I came up during the week and helped get several suites ready for Sunday and again, because I had my ID, no one thought anything of me walking around the stadium by myself. It was cool being there when it was mostly empty too. There's something therapeutic about being in a building that a lot of people use when it's empty (same goes for church...I love cleaning it because it's empty when I do it).

Really, though, it certainly wasn't about the money (it didn't pay all that well and even if it had, I only worked about eight hours for 10 total games), it was about the experience. The schedule fit perfectly into my plans for that time (no games on holidays and away games on the dates I actually needed to be elsewhere, plus the last home game was before Christmas) and was something I wanted to try. Hopefully the 2015 season will work out for me too (and hey, as a fan I wouldn't mind if the team improved too!).

No year would be complete without travel for me. Despite my limited means, I was able to make several trips thanks to a good car and free, or reasonably priced, lodging. Most of my trips were, as usual, to Valparaiso or Nashville, where my sister and brother live, respectively, which is typical. Both are well within a day's drive and I have a place to stay with people I enjoy being around! In fact, the year started in Valparaiso as I was there for the birth of my niece Lorraine on December 30, 2013. I returned to Valpo several times during the year, including a surprise visit during the spring. During one of my trips to Valpo I was able to attend a minor league baseball game for the Gary Southshore Railcats and then I was finally able to see a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. So much fun for me!

Nathan and Lorraine in Valpo in July

Historic Wrigley Field!

Becky and me at Wrigley for the Cubs vs. Padres game in July

Evelyn and Olivia during our Christmas trip to Nashville

With Ryan in Valpo this past July

With Olivia during our August trip to Nashville for Evelyn's 2nd birthday

My two long trips were also this spring. In March during Spring Break for most of the schools I sub in, I went down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for two nights. I was able to find a beachfront hotel room for about $30/night. While brief, it was well worth it and much needed after a particularly long, gray, and brutal winter (even for Ohio). In May I made a marathon trip to the Shreveport, Louisiana area for the wedding of my good friend and former missionary companion Will Graff to Megan Rikert. I made the 32-hour round trip in 4 consecutive days, stopping in Nashville on the way there and back since it's right near the midway point. Not only was it great to see my sister-in-law and nieces (albeit briefly), but of course very nice to see Will and Megan tie the knot. I even made a stop in Little Rock, Arkansas on the way back to see the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

Myrtle Beach in March
Will and Megan's wedding in Louisiana in May

Historic Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in May

In addition to traveling, it was nice to have family visit here in Kent on several occasions. Twice this year I had all my siblings in the same room at the same time, which is actually pretty rare. I see all of them on a regular basis, but obviously at separate times. My brother and sister came to visit in March just after my birthday, and then were all here again for my grandpa's 90th birthday in October. Of course my sister and her family visited a few additional times, as they're only five hours from here. I love to travel, but it's always nice when people come here, so I very much appreciated and enjoyed it all!

With the siblings in March here in Kent, just after Katie returned from Ukraine!

All the siblings, nieces, and nephews here in Kent in March
Our traditional "Katie and the group" shot in Kent this past October
Family photo in October

2014 was also not without my share of singing, though I was not in any shows this year since This is Kirtland! is on hiatus (doesn't look like it will be back for 2015 either). I was particularly excited about some firsts in singing: in February I performed the Canadian National Anthem "O Canada" in public for the first time when I sang at the NCAA Division II Wrestling National Championships at Public Hall in Cleveland. Later this year, just last month, I finally sang for a football game when I sang prior to the game between Kent State and Akron at Dix Stadium here in Kent. I've been wanting to sing at a football game since high school and have never had the chance. Even though the crowd wasn't all that big (it was 27 degrees F at game time during Thanksgiving Break and the game had been rescheduled), it was still fun and a good experience!

Pictures from KSU photographer David Dermer from my National Anthem performance at Dix Stadium in late November

I once again sang for the Cleveland Indians, Toledo Mud Hens, Akron Rubber Ducks, and Columbus Clippers at various times during the baseball season, as well as several other Kent State events (men's and women's basketball, gymnastics, wrestling), and I even got to sing at the 2014 Mid-American Conference Wrestling Championships since they were hosted in Kent this year. Now, if only I could get a Cleveland Browns and/or Cavaliers game. So far, no luck there, the Cavaliers in particular.

MAC Center at Kent State prior to a men's basketball game

At the MAC Center again at KSU prior to the Mid-American Conference Wrestling Tournament in March

With Julie and Michelle at Fifth-Third Field in Toledo after singing for the Toledo Mud Hens in May

At Huntington Field in Columbus after singing for the Columbus Clippers in June

With my dad and sister at Huntington Field in June

Just before singing for the Akron Rubber Ducks at Canal Park in Akron in June

Another very enjoyable event I've been a part of this year has been the Fan Advisory Board at Kent State. It's a group of athletic staff, KSU faculty, alumni, and just general fans who meet quarterly and discuss issues related to attendance at KSU sporting events, mainly the big moneymakers of football and men's basketball. Not only have I been able to make connections with various people in athletics and at the university, but I've also learned more about what it really takes to run a Division I athletic department and the various challenges that KSU and schools like it face related to athletics. The meetings themselves are all very enjoyable and go by way too quickly. I'm definitely looking forward to the next one coming up in January.

Lastly, I am most excited that I finally got a personal trainer and joined a local gym, mostly to lose a little bit of extra weight. I had been wanting to start that for some time, but money or other issues always seemed to prevent me from doing it consistently or really getting started. Well, I finally did it just before Thanksgiving and have already lost close to 20 pounds without having to make any major dietary changes. Instead, I've been more carefully monitoring what I eat and how much. That way, I can still enjoy many of the sweets and treats I like on a daily basis and not feel the need to binge on them because I completely abstain. My trainer is grounded in reality and is someone who has actually studied diet and exercise in college, so it's been a good experience so far and one I hope to continue. My main goal? Lose some weight so I don't have to buy progressively bigger pants and so the ones I have fit just a little bit better. So far so good!

Some other highlights or random occurrences in 2014:
In June, I tried out for The Voice when they held auditions in Cleveland at Public Hall. While the wait ended up being about three hours, they kept the lines moving and had everyone go to progressive sections, so it didn't seem like that long. Obviously nothing came of it, so all I got was experience. I thought I did OK, but really made me think about who actually gets on the show and why and how many truly talented people are passed over in that screening round.

Waiting in line for The Voice auditions in Cleveland

Some of the line at Public Hall in Cleveland for The Voice auditions

I was interviewed by a newspaper article in western Virginia for an article about the role I played in editing the Wikipedia article on Stephens City, Virginia, which I did back in 2010. I also did my first paid Wikipedia article, evaluating, writing, and publishing a small article about the play "Dear Mother and All".

As I mentioned a bit earlier, in October we celebrated the 90th birthday of my grandpa Ridinger. I made a quick trip to his hometown of Miamisburg, Ohio (just south of Dayton) the week before his birthday and saw a football game on the very field he played on and got some pictures of important places in his personal life and my family history.

Harmon Field in Miamisburg, where my grandpa Ridinger played football in the late 1930s and 1940

With Miamisburg High School Athletic Director

One of these two houses on Sycamore Street in Miamisburg is where my grandpa was born. The house on the left was where his mom's family lived, and the one on the right was where his dad's family lived.

I attended my first Ohio State home game since 1997 in September when OSU played Kent State. I was obviously conflicted since I'm a KSU alum and fan as well as an OSU fan, so I wore a KSU hat and shirt with an OSU fleece. It was a one-sided affair (OSU won 66-0), but I had fun with my sister Katie and enjoyed seeing the stadium again! It was all thanks to the Marsh family at church who gave us the tickets. It was quite the unexpected surprise!

With Katie outside Ohio Stadium in my "conflicted" gear :)
View from our seats. Not bad!

This year had its share of Cleveland Indians and Akron Rubber Ducks games too as tickets were easy and inexpensive to come by! It was fun to get out every once and awhile and gave my sister Katie, who was home unexpectedly from her Peace Corps duties in Ukraine because of the unrest there, something to do!

April 22 game I sang at and got my first foul ball!

Mormon Night at Progressive Field in late May!

Rubber Ducks game in June. We always had great seats!

In August, Katie and I attended a Cleveland Gladitors game at Quicken Loans Arena, the first time either of us had ever been to an arena football game (the same day we also attended the Ukrainian Festival in Parma!). Not only was it exciting (Cleveland won on a last-second field goal), but we won free passes to Castaway Bay in Sandusky after our picture was chosen as a finalist on the scoreboard and fans voted. We sent out a call to friends to text our code in so we'd win and it was readily answered and we garnered about 97% of the vote! HA! Oh, we also got free pizza coupons with the passes!
At the Ukrainian Festival in Parma with my new hat :)

Photo that got us on the scoreboard at the Gladiators game back in August...

Here we are on the this point we had 94% of the vote

We went to Castaway Bay a little later in the year when Becky visited with my nephews and had a GREAT time! It was so much fun and even better because it was free!

We all had a great time at Castaway Bay in Sandusky in August!

Here's to 2015 continuing the good I had in 2014 and improving my life where needed. Happy New Year!

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